Ephesians 4:32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (loud quarreling), and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
One of the most difficult things anyone can do is forgive. We do not forgive for many reasons: 1) We think the other person should take initiative. 2) They hurt me. 3) They don’t deserve it. 4) We like our bitterness. 5) We “can’t” forgive. 6) They haven’t apologized, so why should I do anything? 7) I want to hurt them like they hurt me. 8) I need to prove I’m “stronger” and many more. One way to describe forgiveness is “release.” When we forgive, we release ourselves from the desire to “get back” at someone for hurting us. I won’t get into the numerous ways people “hurt” us or offend us. That’s not my point. My point is what we do with what is done to us.
Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus what a Christian “looks like” in their character. Paul mentions bitterness, anger or malice, or things we do naturally when we get hurt, offended or if an expectation is not met. We want to lash out, hold a grudge and hurt who has hurt us. That is our sinful nature and it is evil! This means forgiveness is supernatural. Those who know how much they have been forgiven are more willing and able to forgive because they understand God’s grace and want to reflect that through the power of the Holy Spirit. While some may forgive, for those who don’t know Christ, they can’t truly forgive because the capacity to do so is not there.
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable about how many times we are to forgive our brothers and the answer is 70 times 7, a Jewish way of saying, every time. When we forgive, it is not that we deny or forget what is done, but we don’t hold it against them. One who does not forgive does not hurt someone else as much as he/she hurts oneself. Unforgiveness is a poison that seeps into every area of life and affects those we care about most. Every time we don’t obey God and forgive, we add a “weight” to our life. As these weights add up, the baggage damages us more as time goes on. Though we forgive, it doesn’t mean things don’t need to change, nor does it mean we overlook sin or injustice. Those who sin need to repent (Luke 17:3), as that is part of the process. However, we should have the attitude of forgiveness and give them and the situation to God, rather than let bitterness arise in our hearts. But because we forgive or release someone doesn’t mean there will always be reconciliation. Reconciliation comes when someone repents and 2 people, groups, etc. come back together in fellowship. Think of how powerful this is for a married couple. If each forgives, their marriage will be very strong and able to get through any tough times.
How do I know if I have forgiven someone? One of my mentors said the way we know is if we can serve them with joy. In many ways, forgiveness isn’t “releasing” someone else from what was done to us, but releasing ourselves from the bitterness and sin in our heart and giving everything to the Lord. Sometimes it’s a process but it is ALWAYS a choice. It’s not that we “can’t” forgive, but we won’t forgive. How much have you been forgiven of? Have we put away the things that are the foundation of unforgiveness Paul mentions: evil, wrath, slander and more? Only when we understand God’s grace and forgiveness will we truly understand how to forgive.